Charles Oliveira on Saturday will return to the Octagon for the third time in 2019, as he takes on Jared Gordon in a UFC Fight Night 164 lightweight showcase in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “Do Bronx” already owns some Ultimate Fighting Championship records, including most submission wins and most “Performance of the Night” awards, and he needs just two finishes to become the promotion’s all-time leader. Oliveira has rattled off five consecutive victories, all of them via stoppage, and finds himself on the cusp of contention at 155 pounds.
Oliveira’s exploits are under the microscope in this installment of The Film Room.
Oliveira already ranks as one of the greatest submission artists in UFC history, and he just turned 30 in October. The difference between Oliveira and other submission specialists, like Demian Maia and Brian Ortega, is that he has the wrestling skills necessary to get the fight to the ground. Maia and Ortega can finish anybody in the world if the fight hits the canvas, but the biggest problem for most jiu-jitsu-based fighters has always been actually getting opponents where they want them. Oliveira came into the UFC at just 20 years of age as a linear submission specialist, but after nine years of high-level MMA experience, he has become a well-rounded fighter who realized early on that he had to work on his wrestling to complement his jiu-jitsu skills. He mostly goes for counter takedowns, as he ducks under opponents’ strikes and uses their momentum against them, but he will occasionally shoot for standard double- and single-legs from the middle of the cage. Gordon is an excellent wrestler, but we have not seen much of his grappling defense, so it will be interesting to see if he can defend the takedowns.
Occasionally, Oliveira will shoot for a double-leg and use the cage to secure the takedown. Gordon is an aggressive fighter, so expect to see more of the counter takedowns as he overextends. However, Oliveira is also much bigger, so he might try to use his size to overpower Gordon to the ground. Oliveira also likes to clinch with aggressive opponents, so look for his trips and throws in this fight.
Once the fight hits the ground, Oliveira immediately passes guard and tries to take the back, often choosing to forgo ground-and-pound. Feinting is one of the most important aspects of striking, but we rarely hear about it being used on the ground. Oliveira will use false submission attempts to pass guard, take back control and set up other submissions. Grapplers at the highest levels know how to chain together these submission attempts and guard passes to eventually achieve their preferred position. For example, while the opponent focuses on defending an anaconda choke, Oliveira is two steps ahead and uses the choke to move to a side-saddle position and then take the back. If opponents try to turn around in full guard to get him off their back, Oliveira will flip his hips over and lock up an arm-triangle. Once you understand more about the importance chaining, Oliveira becomes far more interesting to watch.
To have 13 submission victories before the age of 30 is an incredible accomplishment, but the variety of his submissions makes this record even more impressive. In his 13 UFC submissions, Oliveira has four via rear-naked choke, three by guillotine, three by anaconda choke, one by armbar, one by triangle choke and one by calf slicer. To put that variety in perspective, Maia has 11 UFC submission victories, with nine of them being rear-naked chokes. Being known for a wide variety of submissions makes Oliveira much harder to prepare for and read during the fight. Taking nothing away from Maia, but he is rather predictable on the ground and will continue looking for the same techniques no matter how the fight is going. His continued success shows how he has perfected his usual chain of passes, but overall it is better to have a variety of paths from which you can choose. Oliveira is constantly switching up his sequences based on opponents and how the fight is going, so you never really know his intentions.
Oliveira’s standup game has slowly improved throughout his career, but it was never enough to contend with top-tier strikers like Donald Cerrone and Frankie Edgar. However, a move to Dhiego Lima’s Chute Boxe team in Sao Paulo, Brazil, completely changed his striking and made him one of the most well-rounded fighters in the division. He is generally patient and relies on the standard one-two down the middle from a high guard, but lately, he has been mixing in wild flying knees and spinning back kicks to move opponents to the cage and set up grappling exchanges.
Oliveria has always done his best striking in the clinch and intelligently moved his camp to the Chute Boxe team, home to masters of clinch work in MMA. He likes to 1-2 his way into a double-collar tie where he can fire off knees and elbows while backing the opponent to the cage to set up takedowns. He can also use the threat of his grappling to land strikes in the clinch. Since opponents know the takedown is coming eventually, they are focused on defending and breaking the clinch, which leaves them open for knees up the middle. However, at the end of the day, Oliveira wants the fight on the ground. Being able to beat up opponents in the clinch to distract them from takedowns -- and vice versa -- just adds to his grappling mastery.
Oliveira’s most recent performance proved he is a true triple threat fighter. He can obviously finish anyone on the ground, but now he can finish a fight with strikes at range and beat up his opponents in the clinch. Oliveira has been around so long that we forget he is only 30 years old and just now hitting his fighting prime. There are lots of exciting young contenders at lightweight that could be the next serious challenger for Khabib Nurmagomedov, but we may be overlooking someone who has been there all along. Oliveira offers the most diverse grappling threat in the division, other than the champion, and his striking is much cleaner. Perhaps with a few more wins we could see Oliveira fight for the title.